Friday, May 31, 2019

Thoughts: Mortal Arts

Mortal Arts

by Anna Lee Huber
Book 2 of Lady Darby Mystery

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars

Scotland, 1830.  Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue—in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes.  After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care.  But the city is full of many things Kiera isn’t quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator—and romantic entanglement—Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.

Kiera’s old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother—and Kiera’s childhood art tutor—William, has thrown everything into chaos.  For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father.  Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor’s plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing.  Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend—and save the marriage of another…

Mortal Arts picks up about two months following the events in the first book.  Our characters are headed towards Edinburgh with the intention of settling Kiera's sister, Alana, more comfortably during her pregnancy, in a place more suited to her than Gairloch castle.  But the group is delayed by a summons to a family friend's estates, Dalmay House.

This book touches upon a lot of sensitive subjects, specifically concerning William Dalmay, who was recently found to have been secreted away in an insane asylum by his own father for the past nine years.  It's disheartening to our heroine, as well as friends of the family, to learn that it had been the old Lord Dalmay's inability to accept or understand how Will had changed and suffered after the war that had lead him to sending his son away.  This book also includes a mystery of the disappearance of a girl in the village, whom many are starting to think might have had something to do with William Dalmay.

This book, aside from being a mystery and a build up to romance, I think, takes a rather risky, yet thought-provoking approach to also touch upon the impact of war on the men who fought in it, and how society dealt with such an affect on people during those times.  Will suffers not only battle fatigue, but is also barely recovering from his years being held against his will in an insane asylum--in present-day, his condition would be known as PTSD.  And it's sad to say that people's reaction to this during historical times is not too different than present-day, even if we've become more advanced and open-minded over the decades.

Gage stared down at the swirled pattern of the rug before him.  "Battle-hardened soldiers are far more likely to endure in silence.  It's all they know.  And if they were to admit to having difficulties, who would they tell?" he asked Miss Remmington.  "Our society doesn't exactly welcome such confessions."

I bowed my head.  One only had to look at the old Lord Dalmay's reaction to his son, and his decision to place him in a lunatic asylum, to understand that.  Our nation was eager to welcome home conquering heroes, not broken men.

I admit, I found satisfaction in seeing Kiera finally snap at someone, as she tends to curb her anger and disappear into the woodwork without voicing her opinions.  She did that a lot at the beginning of this book, and so I appreciated, both the exchange that took place with the young, naive Elise Remmington questioning the validity of William Dalmay's nightmares and inability to re-enter society based on society's norms after he'd returned from war.  Truth is, I wanted to slap the little chit myself for being ignorant, but it's hard to fault her when it is society and those who lead society who try to sugar-coat reality, thus keeping their own people, especially women and anyone of genteel breeding, in ignorance.


But Miss Remmington was not placated by such answers.  "But, truly, how bad could it be?  Men have always gone off to war and come home again.  The history books don't talk about them coming home with nightmares."  Her hands fisted in her lap and she scowled.  "It seems to me Lord Dalmay must have done something particularly awful if it troubled him so much."

A bolt of pure fury shot though me, stiffening my spine.  "And who are you to judge?  You who've never been asked to take up a sword or a rifle and kill someone in the defense of your king and country.  War is a nasty, horrific experience, not handsome men in uniform marching side by side with flashing sabers.  It's slogging through muck, and scrounging for food when the supplies do not come through.  It's witnessing the devastation trampling armies have wrought on the countryside and the livelihoods of innocent people.  It's watching your friend die in a muddy field full of corpses."

I guess what riled me the most was that, in the end, Kiera had to apologize to everyone for being so blunt about reality, and yet Elise Remmington never even offered so much as quiet repentance for her rudeness.  That even after Kiera's outburst, one of the other characters still felt that she was merely trying to be mean in scaring Elise Remmington.  Whether that character was simply trying to coddle Miss Remmington or was genuinely ignorant of the realities of war, I'm not sure, but I had to roll my eyes.

As far as the mystery is concerned (because, yes, there was a mystery in there), I felt like it was rather solid, even if kind of predictable from the start.  The direction it takes certainly has you thinking and doubting your own conclusions at times, and I love how easily and naturally Kiera and Mr. Gage kind of just fall into the investigation like an old partnership, despite having really only worked on one murder case together a couple months ago in the timeline.

I enjoyed their slowly building chemistry, though I must admit, the banter left much to be desired.  I get that the romance is going to be a slow burn, but I'm still not a hundred percent certain I'm feeling any love for their relationship as a romantic couple at the moment.  They work well together in terms of investigating the mysterious disappearance of a young woman in the village--whenever Gage isn't keeping secrets from Kiera, that is--but I feel like their romance is still a bit lacking.  And maybe this truly is a very slow burn that will take a few more books to come to fruition... in a way, I don't mind.

I'm much more interested in seeing Kiera get requests to help investigate more mysteries.

Writing-wise, I absolutely enjoyed the descriptions of the decrepit castle, and the lands surrounding Dalmay House.  I would have also liked to see more descriptions of the house itself, as we are lead to believe that the place is quite grand, catching Kiera by surprise, when she'd been living in a castle for so long.

There may have been some tangents that felt overmuch, but I quickly forgot about those as the story drew me right in, ending with a rather melancholic conclusion, even if it was a rather expected one.

As with some of the historical mysteries I've been reading lately, Lady Kiera Darby's narrative leads us to anticipate the events of the next mystery awaiting us in the book to follow, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

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